On April 4, 1984, the story of Winston Smith began. Smith is the protagonist of the incredible novel by George Orwell: 1984. As we can see, as its title, it has the year when this story begins.
Few literary works can claim to have had such a significant impact on the imagination, both popular and intellectual, of the 20th century than that of the work of George Orwell. Orwell, with a simple and direct style, was able to lay bare the mechanism and functioning of one of the great themes of modern times, namely the emergence of totalitarian ideological empires. Since this mechanism is still super current and likely to recur, let’s tell you the plot of this novel (my all-time favorite) and the genius behind it.
Who is George Orwell
George Orwell (real name Eric Arthur Blair) was an English writer born on 25 June 1903 in Motihari, British India.
Coming from the middle class, Orwell moved to England with his mother and older sister in 1904. A brilliant student, he received a scholarship and continued his studies at Eton College, a public institution with a centuries-old reputation.
In 1922 he returned to India and enlisted as a sergeant in the Imperial Police in Burma. But his experience of him is cut short since he resigns five years later and decides to become a writer.
From the spring of 1928 followed years of wanderings in Paris and London, where he frequented the poorest and lived on small jobs and held various positions: bookseller, teacher or even columnist. In 1933 he assumed the pseudonym of George Orwell. Suffering from pneumonia, his health deteriorates. Despite everything, in 1935 he managed to write his second novel.
His sensitivity to social injustice and misery led Orwell to denounce the plight of industrial miners in the north of England at The Quay in Wigan in 1936.
The same year, accompanied by his wife Eileen, he joined the Spanish war against Franco’s fascists. Wounded by a bullet in the throat, he was forced to smuggle back to Britain in the early summer of 1937.
During the Second World War he devoted himself to journalism, in particular political journalism for the BBC and the writing of his most famous novels, Animal Farm in 1945 and 1984 in 1949.
He died of tuberculosis on January 21, 1950 in London.
Plot of 1984
In 1984 the world is divided between three regions at war with each other, namely Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia. Oceania lives under a one-party dictatorship that controls all the gestures and actions of its subjects, even the most private. The leader of this single party is called “Big Brother”. The administration of Oceania is of a disconcerting simplicity, it is governed by four ministries (Truth, Peace, Love, Abundance) and three slogans: “War is peace”, “Freedom is slavery”, “Ignorance is strength “.
The hero of the book, Winston Smith, is a public official who works in the Ministry of Truth and whose job is to review state newspapers and destroy harmful information material. The novel develops in three parts.
In the first, Winston Smith is a model employee. However, his work allows him access to certain underlying truths, and he secretly takes notes in his notebook. This slips the hero into his second phase, where the latter becomes an opponent of the system deep in his heart. It was during this time of rebellion that he meets a young woman, a certain Julia, with whom he falls in love. She shares Winston’s subversive ideas.
During the latter part of the book, the couple meet a strange character, a certain O’Brien who seems to share subversive beliefs, provides them with banned books, but turns out to be a Party agent.
The two lovers are arrested, tortured and, in the end, Winston denies himself, denies his beliefs and even denies Julia’s love. Completely mentally broken, then he can return to society.
Inspirations of George Orwell
According to specialists, George Orwell’s work would be inspired by a novel by the Russian writer Eugène Zamitiane (1884-1937), entitled Us, published in Great Britain in 1924, because it was censored in the USSR. Eugène Zamitiane is a Bolshevik activist and novelist, who was in England in 1917. He returned to Russia the same year to take part in the victory of the Bolsheviks, but due to the authoritarian excesses of the Party he left the same year.
Us (remember banned in the USSR) will serve as a model for both 1984 and for Brave New World by A. Huxley (1932), Fahrenheit 451 (1953) by Ray Bradbury and This Perfect Day by Ira Levin (1970). Censored and considered anti-revolutionary by Stalin, Zamitiane was eventually authorized to leave the USSR in 1931 for permanent exile in Paris, where he died in 1937.
Analyses of 1984
Space and time
1984 is characterized by a domination of time over space. The world is divided between three similar administrative entities even if in permanent war, which make the space perfectly homogeneous.
As for the Orwellian time, it is characterized by a very particular future. Everything is already in the title: 1984 is just a reformulated 1948, anagram. London in 1984 bears a strange resemblance to that of 1948.
This can have two main implications. The first is to show that totalitarianism is independent of time; totalitarianism is a human fact and can arise and develop both in a technologically advanced society and in a so-called “backward” society.
The second invokes the fact that totalitarianism is not the work of any technology, but an “intrinsic” fact of the human being. The fact that totalitarianism is a timeless phenomenon paradoxically shows the importance of the time factor.
Culture and newspeak
The ultimate goal of Newspeak, used in 1984 by the party to “lead” the people, is to make any form of criticism impossible, especially that of the state. The goal will therefore be to reduce the vocabulary as much as possible, to simplify the grammar to reduce the nuances. Newspeak thus allows the suppression of all speculative thinking.
As for the culture of Oceania, where Winston Smith is located, the three slogans exactly reflect a paradoxical situation. “War is peace”, “Freedom is slavery”, “Ignorance is strength”, are a clear way to express a reversal of values. This inversion is perfectly illustrated in the title of the book itself: 1984 is none other than inverted 1948, the year the book was written, as we said earlier.
This inversion of values also applies to the concept of justice, since injustice becomes justice and authority finds before it an infinite and unlimited field of action without the need for any justification.
Science and future
Not only is 1984 not a work of science fiction, it is not even a work of anticipation, it would be better to define it as a timeless work. However, the timelessness of 1984 does not in any way diminish its importance for the formation of an alternative society, quite the contrary. Precisely because Orwell deals with a timeless problem, it is important to pay attention to it, because we are talking (today as never before) of a recurring phenomenon.
Speaking instead of 1984’s relationship with science and technology, we can now come to the idea that science plays no role in solving humanity’s social problems. Problems and threats do not come from machines and computers, but from people.
In this sense, even if science cannot constitute a threat in itself, it cannot constitute a solution either. And this issue is also very topical: indeed, despite the powerful advances in technology, can we say that our problems have found a solution? I do not think so.
To the extent that ideology is part of a form of culture, our problem is cultural. To be able to solve problems, we need to be able to communicate with each other. In this sense, the adoption of a universal auxiliary language shared by all humanity could greatly help to increase exchanges between the various parts of humanity. It would be a language with opposite effects to that of Newspeak of 1984.
Legacy of George Orwell: 1984 in popular culture
As we have repeated several times, the strength of 1984 is that it does not have time and therefore that it is extremely current.
There are many cinematographic and theatrical adaptations and literary influences of the work. We want to remember a British movie released in 1984 by director Michael Radford and a “small” planetary event called “Big Brother”; a reality show that Italy has been broadcasting annually since 2000.
We cannot fail to remember that Margareth Atwood’s Eyes in her Handmaid’s Tale resemble the spies of 1984 and that the propagandist government of V for Vendetta has strong references to the world of today’s leading opera.
But the sphere that drew the most from this work is that of music.
1984 in music
We list some very notable examples.
Let’s start with David Bowie who in the early 1970s attempted to do a 1984 musical adaptation but did not get the rights from Orwell’s widow. However, various songs remain from the project, such as 1984 and Big Brother, contained in the 1974 album Diamond Dogs.
1984 was an English musical group from 1964 to 1968, which featured guitarist Brian May, who later became famous with Queen.
We cannot forget the settings of the concerts of The Wall by Pink Floyd and then Roger Waters solo, clearly inspired by the iconography of 1984.
Radiohead’s Karma Police is inspired by 1984, particularly in regards to the Thought Police.
The song Citizen Erased by Muse, featured on the 2001 Origin of Symmetry album, is evidently inspired by the novel. In 2010 the single Resistance released from the 2009 album The Resistance, also inspired by the novel and mainly by the love story between Julia and Winston.
1984 (written on the cover with the Roman numbering MCMLXXXIV) is Van Halen’s fifth album, released on January 9, 1984 for the Warner Bros.
Rick Wakeman recorded 1984: a concept album inspired by Orwell’s work.
Finally, the concept album Eye in the Sky by The Alan Parsons Project is inspired by the character of Big Brother.
After the summary and analysis of the work and its most famous influences, today, April 4th, what can we do? Put on one of these beautiful records on and trace Winston’s tale 38 years later.